BANGKOK – Prayut Chan-o-cha’s ruling military junta has approved in principle legislation to stem teen pregnancies by pooling efforts of government agencies already addressing the problem.
“The situation with pregnancy among young Thais has increased continually and affects their health, the families, the community, society and the economy as a whole,” the draft bill’s introduction states.
The proposal is being pushed by the Public Health Ministry and defines teenagers as persons ages 10-19.
The concern over the issue was reflected in a report by the Bureau of Reproductive Health last year with statistics showing an precipitous growth rate for young mothers in the country.
Thailand had 127,350 women aged 15-19 give birth in 1990, accounting for 13.3% of all births. That number increased to 129,451 in 2012, or 16.1%.
What alarmed people more was the growth in girls ages 10-14 becoming mothers. There were only 1,668 such cases in 1990, constituting just 0.2% of total births. That more than doubled to 3,725 two years ago, or 0.5%.
“The two groups are important. Those between 15 and 19 constituted the higher percentage and had higher numbers. At the same time, the number of those under 15 also was on the rise,” Bunyarat Sukrat, the bureau deputy director, told the Bangkok Post.
The report said the problem was due to the quickening pace at which boys and girls are reaching reproductive maturity as well their easy access to media and information that could entice them to engage in sex.
Improper condom use
The rising number of teen pregnancies comes in the face of international praise for Thailand’s early campaigns to promote condom use, which initially were aimed at combatting HIV and Aids.
Dr Bunyarat said, however, that while teens may be aware of condoms, many use them improperly, defeating their effectiveness.
“Many young moms had babies even though they took contraceptive pills or their partners used condoms,” said Dr Bunyarat, a lead author of the report and a representative of the ministry pushing the bill.
The draft is being checked by the Council of State and it is expected to return to the cabinet on Monday for approval. Then it will go to the National Legislative Assembly for endorsement.
The legislation calls for a committee to be formed with the prime minister or a deputy to lead it. The panel will map out policies and measures to curb teen pregnancy, including a possible requirement for all schools to have sex-education classes.
The NLA already has before it another bill on the same issued sponsored by Jet Siratharanon, chairman of the body’s Public Health Committee.
Dr Bunyarit said the difference between the two proposals is that the draft pushed by the ministry does contain punishments for girls who do get pregnant.
The NLA could consider the two together or even combine them when they go to the reading stage.
Sex Education Confusion
Currently, sex education is not compulsory for all schools and it is taught differently. Some schools offer a standalone course while others include the topic in health studies, according to Dr Bunyarat.
”We are aware of teen pregnancy, but each agency had its own way to try to resolve it. The bill will make them work together and in the same direction,” he said.
The bureau deputy chief warned of consequences if the problem remains unresolved, saying teen pregnancy can put an abrupt end of education for young moms when they are forced to leave school to take care of their children. They will lose the opportunity for better jobs as well, he added.
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